Last night, we held the final meeting of the Firehouse Working Group-- a collection of theatre artists who have graciously agreed to volunteer their time in support of this residency-- and we had a reading of the full draft of my brand new play A Week at the Havens. I’m pleased to report that it went about as well as such readings can go. Yes, it’s only a first draft, and there were a great many places in the script where I jotted such sage notes as “make this better” or “endless, cut-cut-cut” and so on… but at the end of the evening, there was a very clear sense that yes, Virginia, we have a play here. It didn’t seem to be missing anything critical (“Shouldn’t Hamlet SEE the ghost?”) and it had a nice roundness to it, concluding in a way that felt fulfilling and correct.
What now? Well, that’s the question that faces all playwrights who find themselves holding a squalling, baby script. The care, feeding, and upbringing of this strange creature are mysterious and varied, but it’s still vastly preferable to wondering whether you’ll ever finish a draft. Firehouse has what’s known in the business as Right of First Refusal (which is a fancy way of saying “Dibs,”) so perhaps it’ll appear on that stage someday. And of course before it can appear anywhere, I have to attend to all those helpful notes I’ve made in its margins regarding its improvement.
But murky futures aside, one thing is clear: It’s a play with reasonable promise, and it exists almost wholly because of this residency.
I’m known to be a reasonably quick writer. One of my favorite quotes is from the essayist and sportswriter A.J. Liebling: “I can write faster than anyone who can write better, and I can write better than anyone who can write faster.” It seems a nice niche to occupy… but even at my best/fastest, I don’t generally write two plays in a single year. (Indeed, I’ve taken as long as four years to write a play, and that particular play still isn’t quite right.) Output alone would indicate that this residency has been a success. But output is only one metric, and it’s a murky one.
Output can, when necessary, be forced. Deadlines are a useful thing in that endeavor, and the promise of a production is even more useful (carrying, as it does, a whole raft of internal deadlines.) This residency has provided those, and we now have both Food, Clothing, and Shelter and A Week at the Havens where before we had reams of blank pages and a whole lot of “maybe, someday.”
But more useful than deadlines or productions may be the simple ingredient of Faith. We’re in a business largely driven by faith-- faith that everyone will learn all those lines, faith that the carpenters can build the set, faith that an audience will show up… But the artistic leadership of an entire institution saying to a single artist “We have so much faith in you that we’ll make available all possible resources and we’ll present whatever comes of it” is rare coin indeed, and it has been my pleasure and privilege to spend it on the creation of those two works.
It’s not for me to announce the qualitative result of those efforts-- that’s for the folks who buy the tickets-- but I can say without hesitation that it’s been a fun and fascinating ride. I’ve had the immense privilege of working with some of Richmond’s very best artists. I’ve been present as my work veered in strange, unexpected directions, and I’ve held onto the reins as we’ve ridden it wherever it took us, often to delightful places not on any of the maps we held-- whether Vinton, Indiana, or the dark corners of your own childhood memories.
And now, it’s all over but the blogging.
It’s natural and necessary to thank Joel Bassin, whose idea this was and whose singular efforts have supported me and made me welcome even when I’m sure it was monstrously inconvenient. The entire Firehouse staff deserves similar recognition and gratitude.
But as I sit here, trying to conjure the correct language for my gratitude and failing again and again, it occurs to me that there may already exist the most important thanks:
The plays themselves.
Two plays which would never have existed without Joel extending his hand to me and saying “Let’s have some fun.”
I hope that the plays continue to grow, and that they learn a bit of manners, and that one day they, too, will call out as they travel the world: “Thank you, Firehouse!”
See you at the theatre.